Saturday, May 07, 2005

Against Stupidity

"Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."
-- Friedrich Schiller

Cheating, like cramming, is a time-honored school tradition that every student has probably tried at least once. Even the smart ones who really don't need "extra help" are tempted just to see how it feels hiding a cheat sheet or looking over one's shoulder during a test. Else, they let their classmates copy from them, becoming accomplices, experiencing the thrill, and gaining points for "pakikisama."

Back in high school we used to write our kodigo with red pen on patent leather shoes. This makes the text visible only at a certain angle from the light. Ingenious, up until our teachers noticed that we developed a habit of polishing our shoes during recess of exam week. I don't think anyone still does that now but it's a story I love telling my students because it never fails to get a quick laugh, and, more importantly, it tells them (at least those sharp enough to realize it) that I, too, was once like them.

Which is why I was outraged (to put it mildly) at the unnaturally high number of plagiarized final papers submitted to me (there are almost always a couple every year). I thought I made it clear that I was one of those teachers who knew what he was doing.

I guess I underestimated the power of stupidity combined with laziness.

It's one thing to crib ideas and concepts from other writers; even serious academics do that (the Internet just makes it so very easy). But to actually cut and paste complete published essays and pass it off as one's own is just silly as the chance of being discovered is high. So here then are some extra lessons for my students who cheated (or for those still planning to cheat):

Lesson #1: Dumb it down a bit
Unless you're cribbing from a site populated by morons like yourself (like the IMDB forums), it's always a good idea to change the language. Remember that columnists and essayists, even those online, probably write better than you. Remember also: your teacher knows your ability. Anything that's too well-written will always be suspect.

Lesson #2: The Internet works both ways
Anything you can search, your teacher can search better. Remember, we've been trained to do "old school" research like sifting through library books. Google is a cinch.

Lesson #3: Don't leave obvious clues
This falls under the "believe it or not" category. Some people who clipped their papers from book review sites included the book's price in dollars. How's that for dumb? I always assume that what is submitted to be is original but when certain key phrases keep turning up I begin to suspect some kind of hocus-pocus.

And lastly…

Lesson #4: Give your teachers some credit
Hey, we're smart people, too. No matter how stupid you think we are we're still masters' degree holders who have been doing their job for several years at least. It'll take more than cut and paste to fool us. Put some brain muscle into it: read multiple authors, paraphrase, inject your own thoughts.

The funny thing is that the effort it takes to cheat "properly," that is, reducing the chance of getting caught, requires the same amount of effort as actually researching and creating original work. It takes a lot of smarts to be able to outsmart reasonably sharp college professors. So therein lies the irony. Those who are smart enough to get away with it are the ones who don't need to cheat at all.

1 comment:

renee said...

pat! wouldn't it be classic if a student submitted like a paper the YOU did eons ago? hahahaha